Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, we have been forced, as individuals, to assess our values and priorities along with our overall health. The COVID-19 clinical information relating to treatment options and likely outcomes based on personal health history should lead all of us to the same conclusion: hope for the best; be prepared for the worst. But the pandemic should also have made all of us make sure the health care planning side of our estate plan is up-to-date. And you do not have one, now is the time to create it.
The most common pieces of health care planning in your estate plan are the medical power of attorney (also known as a health care surrogate designation) and the advanced directive (also known as a living will). An advance medical directive makes life decisions for you when you are no longer capable and when you are at end of life. The medical power of attorney names an agent who will be your surrogate decision-maker who will address concerns not already identified in your directives. This planning is crucial to have if you become incapacitated due to a serious illness, like COVID-19 or an injury.
Advance directive requirements and forms vary from state to state, so if you have moved, be sure your plan reflects the state in which you live. And when you create – and later update – your plan, it is important to talk with your loved ones and health care providers about your decisions and wishes. Proactively having these conversations removes the stress placed on families in the difficult position of making the best decisions for their loved ones in the moment of a crisis. As associate professor at USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology Dr. Susan Enguídanos says, "An advance directive is the best gift that a parent can give their children."
According to Dr. Enguídanos, two common misconceptions stop people from completing health care planning for their estate plan. The first is the fear of losing control over decision making once a healthcare surrogate or medical power of attorney is named. The reality is you will continue to make independent decisions until such a time when you are unable to speak for yourself. Only then will these named individuals step in to make sure your wishes are honored. The second misconception involves the fear of the finality of composing an advance directive. An advance health care directive, like a will, can be changed or modified at any time.
If you have trouble broaching the topic with your children or conversely feel your aging parents should start the conversation about end-of-life health care wishes, COVID-19 can be the catalyst to begin. The Conversation Project, a public engagement initiative to "help everyone talk about their wishes for care through the end of life, so those wishes can be understood and respected," is a good place to begin when you don't know how to start. Senior director of The Conversation Project Kate DeBartolo states, "We can't control how this pandemic will play out, but we can control who will speak for us if we can't speak for ourselves."
Other resources, including an End of Life Decision Guide Toolkit in English and Spanish, are available online herethrough Compassion and Choices, a non-profit organization with the mission to "empower everyone to chart their end-of-life journey." The website outlines steps you need to take to create your plan and also provides additional resource links. There is also specific information that addresses dying in the age of a pandemic because, to be sure, you are not alone in this endeavor.
Once you know your vision regarding your healthcare directive, get together with an estate planning or elder law attorney to make sure your plan is accurate and proper under your state’s law. Then have the document on file with your medical doctor and be sure your loved ones have a copy or know where you keep one. You can then get along with your life, knowing you have done all you can for yourself and those you love.
McCreary Law Office can help you put your health care planning in place as a stand-alone or as part of your overall estate plan. Please contact McCreary Law Office or call the Jacksonville, FL office at 904-425-9046 or the Houston, TX office at 713-568-8600 to schedule a consultation.
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